Sunday, January 10, 2010

Israel Marginalia

Back in San Francisco. My plane got in an hour ahead of schedule, at 10 am. This is 8 pm Tel Aviv time, and my goal is to stay up through the night until at least 8 pm San Francisco time. How else to get over the jet lag? It's 4:15 pm right now and I doubt that I will make it. I can't read, I can't write (blogging doesn't count), I certainly can't watch TV. Dave has been making me coffee and chicken apple sausages for energy and now is polishing toothpicks to prop my eyes open. He's the sleep police around here.

Unlike in Ireland and in Poland, where people kept asking us why we were interested in visiting their country, in Israel everyone (including us, eventually) seemed incredulous that this was our first time visiting. This was one of the standard security questions at the airport (both Dave and I got asked this, passing through security days apart from each other): This was your first time in Israel? How come?

My dad lost a nice leather jacket in a taxi cab in Haifa. We tried to drive to a restaurant that day, but Dave's Blackberry was out of juice and our maps were insufficiently marked with traffic flow directions, so we parked the car in front of a random synagogue and then walked to the restaurant and on the way back took a cab to the car. My dad tried to call every Haifa taxi cab company to ask about this jacket -- he had bought it two years earlier in Argentina and was not ready to part with it -- but nothing turned up. The only thing we could remember about the driver was that he was from Tangier in Morocco and that he was listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

We remembered the Tangier bit particularly well because on the road between cities we had been listening to Mark Twain's travelogue Innocents Abroad: an account of his trans-Atlantic journey to "The Holy Land." Tangier is one of the stops he describes in detail:
"Here are five thousand Jews in blue gabardines, sashes about their waists, slippers upon their feet, little skullcaps upon the backs of their heads, hair combed down on the forehead, and cut straight across the middle of it from side to side--the selfsame fashion their Tangier ancestors have worn for I don't know how many bewildering centuries. Their feet and ankles are bare. Their noses are all hooked, and hooked alike. They all resemble each other so much that one could almost believe they were of one family. Their women are plump and pretty, and do smile upon a Christian in a way which is in the last degree comforting."
This, disturbing -- hence, memorable.

Mike left some spices and a scarf in a hotel room in Jerusalem.

Kostya left his winter hat in another hotel room and suffered for it when he returned to St. Petersburg's -15 C.

We've stayed in three different hotels in Israel and in none of them we were given real bars of soap. Instead of bars, all three hotels (belonging to different chains) offered identical liquid soap dispensers, one or two per bathroom. Sometimes, the bathtub and the sink had separate dispensers and sometimes there was only one. I wonder if this is a cost saving measure to prevent the guests from taking the unused soap bars home. But then on the other hand, two of the three hotels outfitted their rooms with chocolate. Are chocolate bars cheaper than soap?

Every time we come home from a trip, we modify our diet accordingly. After Ireland, I've learned to make soda bread. Coming home from Russia this fall, I've been mastering the Uzbeki plov (a meat and rice dish with spices). Coming home from Israel, I found that Dave has already acquired a tub of hummus twice the size of the one we usually buy. I am also ordering tahini (a sesame seed paste) and dates from the organic delivery service we receive every Tuesday.

Okay, it's 5 pm now. Can I go to bed please?


  1. About European hotel soap, Mark Twain in _The Innocents Abroad_ has to say:

    "We are getting used to driving right into the central court of the hotel, in the midst of a fragrant circle of vines and flowers, and in the midst also of parties of gentlemen sitting quietly reading the paper and smoking. We are getting used to ice frozen by artificial process in ordinary bottles --the only kind of ice they have here. We are getting used to all these
    things, but we are not getting used to carrying our own soap. We are sufficiently civilized to carry our own combs and toothbrushes, but this
    thing of having to ring for soap every time we wash is new to us and not pleasant at all. We think of it just after we get our heads and faces
    thoroughly wet or just when we think we have been in the bathtub long enough, and then, of course, an annoying delay follows"

    I guess Americans have always been - and will always be - disappointed in the lack of soap in European hotels.

  2. Irish soda bread with raisins and caraway seed. yum.

    I love the "why?" part of this

  3. Ah, Evelyn! My soda breads are never intricate enough to include the caraway seed :)